Our current textbook has helped me understand why-I am a Kantian at heart! As I seek to compare utilitarianism with the Kantian theory of Moral Rights, I find that have 3 primary objections to utilitarianism: 1) Utilitarianism only judges the outcome, not the means; 2) Utilitarianism places happiness as the highest good; and 3) utilitarianism tends to objectify persons. My first objection to utilitarianism is that it only judges outcomes and it places no judgment on the various actions used to achieve those outcomes.
Our textbook gives the following definition of utilitarianism: “An action is right… If and only if the sum total of utilities reduced by that act is greater than the sum total of any other act… ” (Velasquez, Manuel. Pearson, 2012. P. 78). By this definition, an action is moral if it produces the greatest utility for society, regardless of what that action is. This is akin to saying “The ends justifies the means”. Lees take an imaginary situation-lets say that a terrorist is angry with the CEO of an oil company.
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The terrorist takes a plane full of people hostage and threatens to kill all the people on board unless you kill the CEO of the company. Utilitarian ethics might make the case that the greater utility to society would be for you o kill the CEO in order to save the hundreds of people on the plane. Kantian ethics says that the CEO has a moral right to life and killing him/her would be morally wrong. In this case, the ends clearly do not justify the means, because the means would be immoral.
In fact, Paragraph 1 759 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention. ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church. 1997). This objection to utilitarianism extends to one of the most controversial topics of our time-the abortion debate. Many Of the arguments in favor Of abortion are based on utilitarianism and what is deemed to bring the most happiness to the most people. Many of the main arguments against abortion are based on the ethics of moral rights and on the willingness to judge the morality of individual actions.
Kantian ethics would say that each baby has a moral right to life that cannot be taken from them, while a utilitarian ethics can be used to justify abortion as well as genocide and other atrocities in the world. My second objection to utilitarianism is that it places happiness as the highest of all odds, without stating what brings true happiness. Some of the examples given to support utilitarianism make it sound like happiness is found through an easier life, greater wealth, better bridges, etc. Loud contend that we only find our true happiness in relationship with God, and that we were actually created for love, not for happiness. To quote the catechism again, “The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man room discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude.
Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity (love). ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church. 1997. Paragraph 1818). This quote from the catechism states that our happiness ‘flows from love’. I find that utilitarianism does not ask questions about love, nor does it require love to be part of the discussion on the morality of actions. And yet love is fundamental to a purposeful existence. In addition, it is possible for a utilitarian to engage in actions that they believe will bring happiness to others, without asking if those actions will draw themselves or others closer to God.
This seems like an empty pursuit to me. My third objection to utilitarianism is that is runs the risk of treating people as objects. Utilitarianism does not directly ask what is good for the individual; it asks what is good for society. An individual’s needs do not matter when compared to the needs of society. Lets return to the example of the Oil Company CEO and the terrorist used earlier. Utilitarianism would say that the CEO should IEEE to save the lives of the passengers on the airplane. But this treats the CEO as an object to achieve an end.
It disregards his moral right to life, his own free will, and his human dignity. “Utilitarianism is a civilization of production and of use, a civilization of things and not of persons, a civilization in which persons are used in the same way as things are used. ” -John Paul II. In conclusion, I have found our study of the various ethical perspectives offered in our textbook to be extremely helpful. It has helped me to understand my own framework for making ethical decisions, and has also helped me understand my own objections to utilitarianism.